Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was showing "disdain" for China's approach to Latin American by saying that the far east nation was assuming the role of "new imperial powers" alongside Russia, a nationalistic Chinese newspaper said over the weekend.
"Chinese people might be surprised to find out that their country is labeled a 'new imperial power,'" said Global Times in an op-ed.
"The question is: What did China do in Latin America? China has no military bases in the region and has dispatched no troops to any of the Latin American countries," the Chinese Communist Party-linked newspaper added.
On the charge that China is using its economic influence to exert political pressure over the region, the paper claimed Beijing's actions brought only benefit to those nations.
"China is merely doing business with Latin America and all the trade ties are based on the countries' free will and for mutual benefit," it said. "China respects Latin America and the first principle in trade cooperation is win-win and reciprocity. However, the U.S. has long seen Latin America as its backyard."
China's comments came after Tillerson on Friday said in a speech on Friday about China's influence in Latin America that the region "does not need new imperial powers."
"Today China is getting a foothold in Latin America. It is using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit; the question is at what price," Tillerson said at the University of Texas at Austin en route to Mexico.
"Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people," he said. "China's state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past. It doesn't have to be this hemisphere's future."
State-owned China Daily responded to Tillerson by saying said there is a "perception gap" between the U.S. and China.
Referring to Tillerson's Friday speech insinuating China is a "potential predatory actor," the paper said the current U.S. administration believes it is living during the Cold War, "even though the rest of the world has moved on and is living in 2018." That is, Washington is suffering from "paranoia," the paper said.
"Which is why what appears perfectly normal to China and other countries can look offending, even unacceptable to the U.S."
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also hit out at Tillerson's comments over the weekend, saying "the relevant allegation from the U.S. side is totally contrary to the facts and shows no respect for the vast number of Latin American countries."
The latest tit-for-tat between the world's two largest economies came as the U.S. is seen to be turning inward under the Trump administration and as China expands its international footsteps and global influence, especially through the Belt and Road Initiative.